The number of Soviet emigres stranded in Italy and unable to obtain refugee visas to enter the United States increased dramatically in the first two weeks of March, Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky said Thursday, after returning from a one-day trip to Rome.
Yaroslavsky said that up to 40% of those who apply to enter the United States are rejected because they cannot prove a well-founded fear of persecution in the Soviet Union.
Refugee status once was virtually automatic for anyone leaving the Soviet Union, but a surprise loosening of the Kremlin’s emigration policy strained American refugee quotas and has resulted in more than 1,300 refusals since last Oct. 1.
Yaroslavsky, whose district has several thousand Soviet immigrants, said he would urge California’s congressional delegation to press the Bush Administration to free more funds for refugees.
“You cut back on military junkets and congressional junkets. You don’t cut back on people who are facing persecution, no matter where they’re from, be it the Soviet Union or Cambodia or Central America,” he said.
The councilman, who is up for reelection on April 11, said his trip would be paid for out of campaign funds.